Read more                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       

Read about Professor TREMBLAY'S coming book:

The Code for Global Ethics


Shop at!


Click to order

The New American Empire






by Rodrigue TREMBLAY, Ph.D.

(pages 178-182)


The Medieval concept of "Just War" or of "just cause"


          People with a religious bent sometimes refer to the ancient and medieval concept of "Just War" or "righteous war" when they want to justify an offensive and aggressive war. Crafted at a time when the technology of violence was much less advanced than today, the concept of "Just War" pertains to justifying war along Christian moral principles. In reality, the Christian "Just War" concept is the equivalent of the Muslim "Jihad".


          Since war's central action is to inflict suffering and death on other people, and since religions purposefully forbid doing to others what one does not want to be done to oneself, or that, as in St. Paul's writings, one must not render "evil for evil", but overcome it with good (Rom. 12:17, 21), it is not easy to justify war and military murder in the name of religion. Nevertheless, historically, some religious scholars, especially after the Church became identified with the Roman Empire, attempted to devise pragmatic arguments to justify wars under certain conditions, from then on considering religion as a stalwart supporter of public authority.


          Aurelius Augustinus, better known as St. Augustine of Hippo (354-430), the originator of the Just War Theory, contended that there was a difference between individual morality and public morality. For the individual, even in cases of self-defense of one's life or property, there was never a justification for killing one's neighbor. For a government, however, the Christian morality was more elastic when it meant killing other human beings.


          For Augustine, if Christianity were to become an integral part of the Roman Empire, it had to cease being a pacifist religion and stop being opposed to all wars and all killings. Indeed, notwithstanding the Christian precepts of "Thou shall not kill" and Jesus Christ's clear message against war and conflict in his admonition to "turn the other cheek" and his order to Peter, "Put up thy sword into the sheath" [John 18:11], Augustine, following Paul of Tarshis before him, believed that the rulers of nations have an obligation to maintain peace, and to do so, they may engage in wars and killings...under certain circumstances. For Augustine, however, there were very few instances when one nation is justified in attacking another. A government, and therefore its citizens, can wage war only when it is absolutely necessary to defend the nation's peace against serious injury.


          In general, the Just War Theory for waging offensive wars of aggression characterizes a war between two sovereign nations as being "just" if it meets three main classical criteria:


•- The war must be waged with the right intention and for good reasons; that is to say, it cannot be undertaken for revenge or for economic gain and to acquire territories or riches, but to restore peace and not be carried on for the sake of pursuing a victory won by violence ;


•- the war must be authorized and declared by a legitimate authority, that is, an emperor or a king. Today, when considerations of international peace and good order are paramount, war can only be authorized by an international authority, either an international organization or an international court of justice;


•- the war must be undertaken for a just cause. It must satisfy the principle of proportionality between the force used and the injury suffered, as well as of discrimination between aims and means in order to defend the nation's peace. To protect itself against serious injury, a nation must not use excessive force. Military force may be used only to correct a grave threat, where the basic rights of a whole population are at stake.


          During the Middle Ages, scholastic philosophers such as Thomas Aquinas, Francisco Suarez and Francisco de Vitoria, further developed the Just War Theory, not on the basis of the teachings of Jesus, but on account of natural law. For them, a war of self-defense needed "no special moral justification." However, an offensive war should be viewed only as a defensive measure and needed to be justified by two additional principles, besides the three main criteria already outlined:


•- The war must be fought as a last resort, after all avenues of peaceful negotiations have been exhausted; and,


•- the war must be carried out in a proper manner, without killing innocent people indiscriminately.


          Nowadays, with the tremendous and awesome destructive power of modern weapons, such principles of "Just War" are irrelevant and cannot be invoked to launch aggressive wars. It is obvious that the use of nuclear weapons, tactical or otherwise, is morally prohibited under any circumstances, because they are designed to kill innocent people indiscriminately. Even the so-called "smart" bombs that certain U.S. military people boast about are morally indefensible and unjust. According to the Pentagon itself, such "smart" bombs miss their targets more often than they hit them.


          Such is also the case with cluster bombs, at least five percent of them explode days or weeks after impact, and are often picked up by civilians or unsuspecting children. The same can be said about land mines that kill more non-combatants than combatants. The moral conclusion is clear. Sophisticated modern weapons have rendered modern warfare obsolete because it is no longer waged between armies, but against civilian populations.


          Political thinkers who say aggressive wars are justified in theory and in practice are misguided. There cannot be a "Just War" under modern conditions and circumstances. In the aftermath of World War II, Pope Pius XII declared that "the enormous violence of modern warfare means that it can no longer be regarded as a reasonable, proportionate means for settling conflicts."


          Pope John XXIII's encyclical "Pacem in Terris" (1963) also condemned wars of aggression when he stated, "Therefore in this age of ours, which prides itself on its atomic power, it is irrational to think that war is a proper way to obtain justice for violated rights." For this humanist pope, war is not a legitimate instrument of justice and it must be rejected as a viable modern political option. It should be replaced, sooner or later, by some form of legitimate global government.


          Regarding the 2003 War against Iraq, Pope John Paul II took upon himself to send a special emissary, Cardinal Pio Laghi, to meet with the president and to tell George W. Bush that his planned aggressive and unjustified war against Iraq did not meet the criteria of a just war and would therefore be immoral. In a letter pleading against war, Pope John Paul II asked Bush "to spare humanity another dramatic conflict''. However, White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer said that his boss wouldn't be influenced by the Pope. National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice went even further and declared that she could not understand how anyone could consider a war against Iraq immoral.


          One can safely say, therefore, that the Just War Theory has been completely eliminated from religious or, for that matter, from humanist and secular morality. What is left is the moral concept of self-defense and defensive wars, but then, only when there is a proportionality between the needs to secure a country's peace and the means to do so.


          In regard to Bush's 2003 war of invasion against Iraq, it can be said that such a war violated all five main criteria for a "Just War". First, notwithstanding the denials, the desire to control Iraq's riches in oil reserves, as it has been amply documented in this book, was a paramount preoccupation with the Bush-Cheney administration. This violated the first condition for a just war. Second, this war was not authorized by the United Nations or the International Court of Justice, and therefore it violated the second condition for a just war. Third, it was not a just war because it was not a war of self-defense, but an offensive war "on suspicion", a war of revenge and of retribution to make a statement and to avenge the Islamist terrorists' attacks of September 11, 2001. Fourth, this was not a war of last resort since Bush's war against Iraq was launched without having given sufficient time to the United Nations inspectors to complete their work of inspection and of disarmament of Iraq. Fifth, Bush's war against Iraq involved long range bombings, missile launchings and tank blitzes that could kill thousands of innocent human beings.


          Not only, therefore, are the five main principles of the "Just War Theory" obsolete for justifying modern offensive wars, but the Bush administration was violating all five moral conditions for a just war in lauching an offensive war against Iraq. The United States was not only going against international law, it was also going against recognized international morality in its military ventures.


          In conclusion, when the Bush administration develops arguments to launch aggressive wars on its own all over the world, it cannot do so according to the basic principles of international law, nor can it do so according to fundamental principles of morality and justice. If it were to pursue this course, it would truly transform the United States into an international rogue state.





Achon Books; dist by Infinity, 2004

Paperback: 361 pp; US $21.95

ISBN 0-7414-1887-8

To order book by phone: TOLL-FREE: (877) 289-2665

To order book by Fax : (610) 941-9959

To order book on Internet:


OR on







THE NEW AMERICAN EMPIRE and this website are Copyright ©2004 Rodrigue Tremblay. All rights reserved.